Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Carnegie fever - who is going to win?!

If you love children’s books, then, like us, you will be eager to know who is going to win this year's Carnegie Medal.

Described as the most prestigious literary prize for children’s books, its librarian judges weigh heavily in favour of literary merit. It's all in the writing. And to win it is something of a pinnacle of achievement for children's authors.

Certainly it’s not the most prestigious because of the prize money. The prize is a donation of books to a library of the winner’s choice, as it was founded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who was a great believer in libraries and contributed greatly to the spread of freely available books and knowledge to all.
But it is widely recognised in schools as being the prize that gets children reading, broadening their choice of books and authors and learning to review and share their thoughts through the fantastic shadowing scheme, which tens of thousands of schoolchildren take part in.

When you look at the list of past winners, surely it is the honour of seeing your name alongside previous winners that must make it such a glittering literary prize. Arthur Ransome was the inaugural winner in 1936. Names such as Noel Streatfeild,  Elizabeth Goudge for 'The Little White Horse',  Mary Norton for 'The Borrowers',  Eleanor Farjeon, 'The Little Bookroom',  C S Lewis, Rosemary Sutcliff, Alan Garner for  'The Owl Service', Richard Adams with 'Watership Down', Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Neil Gaiman and latterly Patrick Ness. 

It is a hallowed hall of fame indeed.

Penelope Lively was the only author who won The Booker and The Carnegie – a feat that would be repeated if Roddy Doyle wins with ‘A Greyhound of a Girl’.

'I think it's going to be Maggot Moon.' 'Yeah, so do I.'

So with no further ado, after all our reading, is there a clear favourite? We've read and cogitated. But can we agree on which is the most worthy winner?

I especially loved Sarah Crossan’s 'Weight of Water' due to it light and refreshing handling of difficult subjects, and the easy going meandering of Dave Shelton’s, 'A Boy and A Bear in a Boat'.

Jo: Actually, I do have a standout favourite, so that's not that hard a question to answer: 'Code Name Verity'. The Carnegie Medal was established to reward those books that delve into the murky realms of literary fiction, but in my mind, it should also reward books that reach out to readers in the intangible way that truly great books have the tendency of doing. 

For me, CNV does exactly that. It's hard to pin down exactly what the book is. Is it a war story? Is it a historical novel? A story of two best friends? Of heroism, of defeat, of darkness? It's all those things, of course, and so much more. 

It's very cleverly written and structured, and it's beautiful. It also makes you think, makes you work hard trying to figure out what's happening, and what it's trying to be. But by the end, you're just happy that you read it, and happy that you get to think about it, and quite delighted that you get to share it. 

So yes, I would love to see Elizabeth Wein win. As to the question of who will actually win? I'll leave that one to Mr Carnegie's team of lovely librarians.

Nicki: On literary merit alone, then I would speak up for Marcus Sedgwick. I was swept away by the easy confident way he writes when what he achieves should be stretching an author to his limits.

Knitting together a blend of believable characterisation and sublime plotting without a single stumble is enough of a challenge. Writing good books is hard work. He makes writing for children look flawless, but he takes it beyond that and you realise you are reading a writer who is at the top of his game.

He changes voices, tempo, messes around with time and words, throws together ideas and themes as easily as if he’s simply helping himself at a buffet. And actually makes it look like he had fun writing it rather than giving himself a headache. And he comes up with something engrossingly readable.

It made me long for more children's writers who are bolder and more experimental with their writing. I have difficulty even thinking of many authors who are writing at this level.

Sally: The trouble is, it is a bit like saying which is the best; a rocket, a submarine or bicycle? They are all totally different and it completely depends on where you want to go and what you want the journey to be like. I immensely enjoyed reading all the books.
Hmmm. Decisions.

Nicki: If the judging criteria were on the book that has most stayed with children and has had the biggest impact then the hands-down winner would be RJ Palacio for her rare gem, ‘Wonder’.

The fact that this has been that elusive ‘holy grail’ of a book – one that has gathered and grown, all on word-of-mouth praise. A colossal achievement for a debut author - to gather such fondness for a book on such a subject matter is surely nothing less than astonishing.

Take a look at her website at the sort of correspondence and feedback and just general thought that she has provoked, not just from professional reviewers, but in readers. To be able to write a book that enlightens through the medium of an accessible and popular story, a story that is basically a plea for tolerance of difference in schools, I think is a humbling experience. That anyone can achieve this in a book is surely beyond most author’s wildest dreams. It is a book with such heart.

In my opinion it is the most important book to have been written for years and should be the runaway winner.

Jo: I'm going to put a late punt in for Nick Lake's 'In Darkness', too. Nicki - you talked about the importance of 'Wonder', because of the way it speaks to people and perhaps enlightens. Well, In Darkness does that, too. It shines a spotlight on the brutal truth of a life lived in very difficult conditions - conditions that most children who read the book wouldn't ever be able to relate to. But Nick Lake does a fantastic job of giving the kids living in such terrible conditions a voice - and making it a gritty, honest, contemporary one, too. It works fantastically to knit together history and present day, all through the mind of a boy stuck under Haitian rubble. Truly amazing.

But will the judges concur? Or will the book that has already gathered the most awards this year triumph again? Sally – you read Maggot Moon – is anyone going to beat it?

Sally: Sally Gardner’s 'Maggot Moon', snarled me from the first sentence, and like a terrier it did not realise me until the bitter end – (it is indeed both bitter and sweet). But most of all 'Maggot Moon' has my backing for one simple reason – it was the only one that made me cry. Yes. I think it will win.


Send us your votes, share your thoughts. But whatever happens, soon we will know whose name gets carved on that prestigious trophy.

And it’s the last chance to win our goodie bag of titles – so if you haven’t read them all yet – let us know which one you want to win and you’ll be in with a chance of being a winner yourself .

I think we believe it's going to be 'Maggot Moon', but perhaps we need one of Auggie's precepts to remind us that it's not up to us and we may well be wrong.

A new precept for Auggie?


  1. Maggot Moon! Bold, searing and beautiful. Great discussion!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Addy - I'm totally with you with Maggot Moon, and second, I'd go Boy and a Bear in a Boat!

  2. If we're using crying as our metric, my votes would go first to Code Name Verity and then to Maggot Moon. Both were fantastic. Haven't read any of the others, sadly.

    1. Thanks Erin, sometime I think books should have a warning on the cover something like, three tear icons = need a box of tissues!

  3. I've only read Maggot Moon, Code Name Verity and Midwinterblood so far. All are brilliant so it's hard to choose, but my money's on Code Name Verity for sheer complexity and emotional depth. On a personal level, I would choose Midwinterblood though. I could read that book over and over again!

    1. It it really difficult to choose when all the books are so good and different.

  4. Based on how long I spent thinking about them after I closed the book:
    1. Code Name Verity
    2. Maggot Moon
    3. Wonder
    4. Midwinterblood
    but any of these would be a great choice. Haven't read the others - yet!

    1. Hi Linda,
      Great way to decide. Sometimes the experience when reading the book is all it is, other times it stay with you for days and weeks.

  5. I think this year's list is too amazing to call. Thank you for this series. I loved your thoughtful discussions.

    1. Hi Candy,

      Thanks for following the series, you are right it was great crop this year.

  6. Was very privileged to be a judge at the annual Abingdon Carnegie shadowing event. Fabulous reviews from the kids. Although 'Wonder' was the runaway winner in terms of votes, from the quality and emotional response for the reviews I would say 'Midwinterblood' and 'Code Name Verity' seemed to have the quality to draw out the passion...

    1. Mark, must be great to actually get hear directly from children!


What do you think?